THE exquisite manuscript copy of Christine de Pizan's Collected Works, one of the greatest treasures of the British Library (Harley MS. 4431), is well known to scholars of late medieval literature and art. A splendid frontispiece depicts the first owner, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, the wife of King Charles VI of France. Seated in the intimacy of her bedroom, Isabeau receives the large book from Christine, who wrote mostly for those prominent in royal circles between 1399 and 1416. A special dedication to the Queen precedes twenty-nine separate works by Christine, which together constitute the fullest version of her writings up to 1410-15, the date of its completion. Now bound in two volumes and containing 398 folios of large format, the British Library manuscript marks the culmination of Christine's literary career, which effectively began in 1389 when her husband, a royal secretary, died while on a mission for the King. Beset by financial difficulties, she became a writer in order to support herself and her family. By 1399, following ten years of study, the still-young widow had produced her first work, the Cent balades with which the Harley manuscript opens.
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